Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to the Bahamas
Sailing the New England Coast – Part 3
Our last night in Maine was spent on the tour boat dock at Cape Ellis, at the mouth of the Saco River. We made our departure for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, just as the sun broke over the horizon. The winds were light and Skipper Frans persuaded his reluctant crew to put aside our books and raise the gennaker. Our efforts were later rewarded with an extra tot at happy hour.) The gennaker required a fair amount of effort to rig and raise it, but we all enjoyed the blaze of colour flying high over the water. The boat was only a mile or two offshore but there were few houses along the shoreline so we couldn’t tell if we made anyone’s day.
This section of coast does not have as many good harbours as we had seen farther north and east, so our choices were limited to a few busy options. Portsmouth’s huge harbour at the mouth of the Piscataqua River marks the state line between Maine and New Hampshire and is a major commercial and navy port. Once again our club of choice had no room for us. Later we realized that the Kittery Point Yacht Yard where we snagged a mooring was a much more comfortable spot. It was located in a protected basin well away from the wake of commercial traffic. Among the boats offered for sale at the yard was a beautiful 22-foot day sailer for ‘only’ $100,000.
Next morning we took a long dinghy trip, past the busy naval base and skirting around a container ship waiting for a bridge opening. A short walk from the dinghy dock took us to the charming Portsmouth downtown. The oldest wood-frame buildings date back to the 1600s. Many now house museums, but some of them are elegant private residences. The parks and historical sites were much appreciated. During our two-day stopover, we also enjoyed other favourite shore-side amenities: coffee houses with free newspapers and showers with unlimited hot water.
Ten miles out into the ocean from Portsmouth are the Isles of Shoals. We sailed though patchy fog that revealed islands one by one as we approached, then closed behind us to conceal our path. This cluster of small islands was used by fishermen from at least the early 1600s. A sprawling old inn, the Oceanic Hotel, was built in 1873 and still welcomes thousands of summer guests each year. It is operated by the non-profit Star Island Corporation, a joint venture of church and historic groups that hold conferences all through the warmer months. Another island serves as a marine biology research station, run by Cornell and the University of New Hampshire. A World War II submarine spotting tower still stands.
As usual, we picked up a mooring and hoped not to be evicted. This was to be our last night in the company of lobster boats, so Frans treated us to another meal of fresh lobster straight from the source. We had managed to suppress our initial hesitation at the sight of soft-shell lobster. In Newfoundland it is unheard of to eat lobster at this stage in the lifecycle and we were almost looking over our shoulders to see whether the fisheries officers were about to swoop in. The soft-shell texture is not much heavier than a plastic shopping bag. That makes it far easier to extract the meat compared with the effort required to crack open the hard shells that we are used to. The ease of access was a fair trade-off for any slight decline in lobster meat quality.
One again it was time to organize a land-sea interface. Our stint as crew was ending and our replacements hoped to join the boat in Marblehead. It was not to be. Marblehead was hosting race weekend and not one of its thousands of moorings could be booked either by persuasion or threat. Instead, we settled on Gloucester, Mass., [Sailin07-Maine 100.jpg] as an alternate destination. The anchorage was rolly and far from shore, but we felt a small thrill staying at such a fabled port.
This concluded our New England trip. We came away impressed by the variety of experiences. The boat and our hosts had taken us to a resort, uninhabited coves, a yacht club, a marina and four miles up a river. We visited big and small towns and got a good dose of the area’s history. We saw what Newfoundland could look like with the influx of a million summer visitors and 10,000 boats. We went home with a renewed appreciation for the uncrowded anchorages we currently enjoy. We also are indebted to Frans and Mary for their generous hospitality.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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